There seems to be a spectrum when it comes to how people experience travel. On the one end of the spectrum is graceful floater. She is well-planned, takes all precautions, knows exactly what sites to see in which countries, and is well-acquainted with the historical and cultural facts that allow one to float through travels like a well-integrated local.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the enthusiastic free-faller. She loves the same things and appreciates the beauties of travel as much as the graceful floater, but she will inevitably get lost, miss connections, and somehow manage to always hail the questionable taxi-drivers. She can plan all she wants, but she will usually end up free-falling and flailing energetically through her travels.
Both can have a lot of fun, and I might even argue that the free-faller has more fun. One thing is for sure: she ends up with the most stories to tell. As you might have guessed, I fall far on this end of the spectrum. I often find that I have a very difficult time understanding exactly where I am (geographically and historically), and am always a little bit lost when I travel, always trying to climb a little higher to gain a perspective of what exactly I am doing. That’s the best way I can describe it. And if you are reading this and you can relate, I’d love to hear some of your stories.
I tell you all of this as a prelude to my story-telling challenge, as many of the stories I am going to start off with have something to do with getting lost, missing connections, and general travel insanity. The first story is actually one of a literal free-fall—an amazing, terrifying, life-enhancing free-fall. It is this experience which serves as a metaphor for all travel in my life, the broadened horizons, the rush of information and scenery, the unexpected mishaps, and the exhilaration of it all.
My husband Jeff and I, almost three years into our marriage, made plans to take a big Europe trip. We’d be going on a two week voyage to Ireland and Germany, and then the plan was to come home and start a family (that part, ironically, did actually work out exactly according to plan). Taking a big trip together was one thing we’d wanted to do before having kids, but I felt like we needed something more, something a bit crazier than the trip itself to look back on. I tend to face big life changes with an urgent need to do something rash, to “get it all out” before I dive in. So I got it into my head that I wanted to go sky-diving, and once the idea was there, it stuck there like a Simon & Garfunkel song, repeating it’s poetry over and over again in my brain. After a lot of coercion, I managed to convince my very practical husband that it was a good idea.
We decided not to tell anyone. We didn’t need our parents following us to Ireland, trying to talk us out of it. We arrived in Galway on the day of our dive, hoping we hadn’t made a mistake. We were diving tandem, each with a professional instructor. Jeff had been assigned a very cheerful, very Irish lad. My guy was a bit grumpy and walked with an unnerving limp (I was hoping it hadn’t been caused by some skydiving accident). He scolded me for asking a question about how to land properly, saying that I should have asked that during the training and it was too late now (though we hadn’t even gotten on the plane at the time). The plane that took us up to 10,000 feet was small, and the ride was uncomfortably quiet. I was trying to go through the instructions in my head, and doing my best to remember the proper landing techniques for a tandem dive— legs up or legs down?
When the time came to fly, I dangled my legs out of the airplane, stepped outside of of all reasoning, and allowed my grumpy stranger to launch us over Galway Bay. The result was a weightless downward rush through clouds, as I enjoyed the pastime of Galway gulls, who watch curiously the tops of cows that graze lazily, peacefully, silently, ambivalently. And I seemed to float above them for a moment, then rush towards them, controlled by every force around me, except for the force of my own will, slave to gravity, seeming to fly, as I freely fell.
We skimmed the skies of Galway Bay
in fast and fiddled flight
the world within our sights
like fabled larks against the sky
In this way I have flown through my travels, tossed into comical, beautiful, grand situations, and acted upon by forces that I don’t quite understand. My landing was a little bit shaky, but I think that had more to do with my grumpy stranger’s bad leg than anything else. Either way, we managed, and made it down in one piece. I had flown through the clouds and felt like I could face just about anything now— even parenting. Jeff and I celebrated with a pint and some fantastic Irish music in the little town of Doolin, where we each got Irish sweaters and decided that, having just had one of the most transcendent experiences of our lives, we would likely allow it to remain a singular event of its kind, our one skydiving adventure.